The Boys isn’t exactly known for its subtlety. The hit Prime Video show is, after all, a subversive take on the superhero genre whose “heroes”—and those scare quotes are doing some super-human heavy lifting there—routinely do much more damage than good. Heads explode, people explode, whales explode; the current third season opens with a penis exploding when an incredible shrinking hero (let’s call him an “Ant-ish Man”) crawls into his lover’s urethra, sneezes, and accidentally bursts back to his normal size. And if that wasn’t enough, fans of the original comic series by Garth Ennis eagerly anticipated the show’s latest episode when they recognized that it shares its title, “Herogasm,” with that of an infamous arc from the comics. The episode’s set piece is a secret suped-up orgy. “These violent delights have violent ends,” Shakespeare once wrote. He would have been eaten alive at Herogasm, probably literally.
But that doesn’t mean The Boys is devoid of subtlety. You just have to look for it in some very, very unusual places—like the doe eyes and quivering lip of one its stars, Chace Crawford, when his character is caught mid-coitus with an octopus during an instant-classic scene in “Herogasm.” Crawford’s character is called the Deep, and he has the ability to survive under water and commune with sea life, often in uncomfortably intimate ways.
Once known as brooding heartthrob Nate Archibald in Gossip Girl, Crawford is now the somewhat unlikely source of both comic relief and a perverse kind of pathos on The Boys. Eric Kripke, who developed and runs the show, says he saw that peculiar combo immediately during Crawford’s “astounding” audition. “It’s a tricky balance and some difficult colors to mix together,” he says, “but Chace did it effortlessly.” The Deep is an asshole, a narcissist, and an emotionally-stunted man-child; he routinely shows more sympathy for the sea creatures he befriends, but even then he usually ends up killing them in whatever novel and gruesome way Kripke and co. can think up.
“The Deep is one of our very favorite characters to write for, and that’s solely because of Chace,” says Kripke. “Honestly, he’s such a gifted physical comedian.” He adds that while the cast is encouraged to improv, Crawford does so with a constant stream of little lines and moments. “I don’t know if anyone foresaw me playing the comedic scenes quite the way I ended up playing them,” says Crawford.
And while he’s become a fan-favorite for his tendency to be at the center of some of the show’s most shocking and memeable comedic scenes, it’s the subtle ways he infuses the character with insecurity and constant existential panic that brings, well, depth to the Deep. The mournful expression on his face is somehow just as funny as whatever ultra-violent gaffe that caused it.
So we sat down with Crawford to learn his secrets to striking that balance—as well as the behind-the-scenes secrets of “Herogasm” and many more of this season’s wildest scenes.
What’s your reaction every time you get a new script for The Boys?
I call my therapist. [laughs] I always say that it’s like going through the seven stages of grief. First you’re in denial, then you’re bargaining, and eventually you accept it. But I remember reading the first 20 pages of the first episode of this season and thinking, “How are they gonna do that?” And they pulled it off. I always think I know where my storyline may go, and it’s never that. It’s always something completely ridiculous. And this season has been a lot of that. Before this season, Kripke asked me, “Have you seen My Octopus Teacher? Did you see that documentary?” And I was like, “I did. It was very touching, very moving. I doubt that’s where you’re going to go with it!”
I’m still haunted by the scene earlier this season of the Deep muttering “He’s praying!” while being forced to eat his friend Timothy the Octopus alive. How did you get through shooting that?
Stephan [Szpak-Fleet], our VFX supervisor, is incredible. When I saw it in the episode, I was like, “Oh my god, it looks disgusting!” Because there was really nothing much on the plate when we shot it. It was almost like a mochi filled with syrup. It kind of ruined pancakes for me for a minute. And they just attached some scotch tape with strings to my face, and kind of pulled on my face a little bit. It was very analog. And then they added all the VFX and it looks so amazing. I mean, our VFX team was nominated for an Emmy last year, and you can see why.
What’s even funnier, though, is that I just got an email the other day that PETA gave us an award! [laughs] They gave it to me, Kripke, and the VFX team for not using a live octopus in the scene! It’s actually amazing…but it’s also funny. And it does take an immense amount of work! Stephan and the team go through scenes frame by frame to do shit like that, to make sure those special effects are amazing. On a show like ours, that stuff really is make-or-break. You can tell when things look half-assed, and our effects are cinema quality.
“Every time you ran into somebody, it would be like hearing war stories. People coming back from a scene like, ‘Have you been to set yet?'”
Well, you’d need some major cinema quality VFX to open the season with a man crawling through a urethra.
Yeah, as our viewership goes up, more money’s coming in, and we can create these big set pieces. And that was a big set piece…quite literally!
The most recent episode includes a superhero orgy called “Herogasm,” inspired by a famously debauched arc from the original comics. And the show’s adaptation did not disappoint. What was it like shooting those scenes?
Oh man, it felt like we were shooting it for like a month. And every time you ran into somebody, it would be like hearing war stories. People coming back from a scene like, “Have you been to set yet?” Crew members standing outside the studio just ripping cigarettes, never smoked a day in their life, muttering, “The things I’ve seen….” The editors who were getting the dailies would be saying, “This is some crazy shit!” But our scenes were pretty sectioned off—when I was shooting my stuff, I didn’t really get see all the other scenes with the other actors. So you walk onto set and there are mysterious fluids everywhere and you don’t know what’s been happening. One of the funniest stories was that we still had all the usual covid protocols, so people would go to get a pump of hand sanitizer and then realize, “Ugh, this is lube!”
And I don’t know where they found these extras, but they were all super cool, and it helped normalize things and make everyone more comfortable on set after a minute in there, you know? Especially for Jack [Quaid], who was the most disrobed he’s ever been.
Have you ever had a moment while filming where you though, “I don’t know if I can do this”?
Well, Kripke’s amazing. His door is always open, he always emails you right back, he’ll always get on the phone. And I rarely bother anybody! But I did have one scene this episode that made me wake up at night in a panic. The next morning I was like, “I need to know what all the camera angles are. What are we doing? Can we not do this shot? How will I sleep at night?” And Kripke started laughing and said, “We’re never gonna make you do anything you don’t want to do, so let’s talk about this.” So that was the only one of those emotional breakdowns I had.
I think we can all guess which scene you’re referring to: the already infamous scene of Starlight walking in on the Deep with an octopus, uh, wrapped around his crotch.
Yeah, it was the scene involving the octopus. And that thing was like a 40-pound rig around my neck. And again, Stephan was so amazing—he saw me in a little pain and was like, “Let’s just cut some of those octopus limbs off! I’ll just do it in post.” So there he was just cutting off these fake arms.
You still made off better than poor Laz Alonso, who plays Mother’s Milk. He’s now had multiple encounters with a giant, sentient-seeming penis. And this episode he gets caught in its crossfire in a new way…
I think him talking about it [in interviews] has made it worse! So now it’s a running gag. Thank God I’m not Laz!
“We try to deal with the character side of things with some grace and nuance…In a way, all the blood and guts and gore is the window dressing.”
Pivoting to more clothing-forward scenes—is it true your costume includes a bit of butt padding?
Did I say that in somewhere? I must have! What’s funny is that after we did the fittings and early mock-ups and several iterations of the Deep’s costume, of course they went with the sleeveless one. So I was like, “Okay! I guess arm day is happening every day!”
But LJ [Laura Jean Shannon], who designs our super suits and like every super suit for every other superhero shows on TV, is incredible. I didn’t realize how much went into the process—it took something like six months and 13 fittings. My costume is essentially just a wetsuit. But she builds out these interiors and these foam pads that they shave down perfectly for your body, and they can give you a little bit of help in certain places. And yeah, they helped me out on the rear end. So I don’t worry about leg day as much anymore!
And they want the super suits to look lived-in. I think that’s one of the funniest gags on the show—that we supers are always in those costumes, we never wear anything else. I’ve never had another fitting, other than like, “Try on this trench coat!” And then Deep just puts it on over his costume when he goes grocery shopping, but still wearing his gloves and everything else.
The fact that he never takes his costume off made the scene in season two, where he reveals that he has gills under his vest, even more jarring. Especially considering how insecure and violated he feels when the woman he’s with sticks her hands in them without his consent.
Right? He’s so insecure about them, which is a very foundational aspect of the character.
Your character has become a somewhat unlikely source of comic relief. When we first meet him in the series premiere, he attempts to pressure Starlight, the newest recruit to the Seven, into giving him oral sex. He’s an asshole and a predator. But he’s also a dysfunctional man-child desperate for validation as a hero. And he’s also a fuck-up, the punchline to a lot of the show’s big visual gags. How do you balance all that?
You know, that particular scene wasn’t even in the pilot when I read it. But it’s a big moment early on in one of the first comics. It’s even shot from behind in the same way. And they wanted to put it back in as a big jumping-off point for Starlight [played by Erin Moriarty] and her character. She’s just come in from Indiana, she excited to be a superhero, and then she has this horrible never-meet-your-heroes moment. I was nervous to film that. But Krikpe was so cool in laying it all out for us. He said, “Listen, the more absurd the comedy, the more crazy the violence, the more we need to handle scenes like that with nuance and realism.” There’s no real black and white in our show, and definitely no pure good guys. Deep is an entitled asshole, to the point where he didn’t really understand that what he was doing was so wrong. To him it was an accepted rite of passage, and it had happened before. That’s very dark. Then we see more of how deeply flawed and insecure he is—like when he gets assaulted in that [season two] gill scene.
So there’s a big tonal gearshift between some of the darker scenes in the show and then scenes like when the Deep’s trying to save a dolphin from Oceanland and accidentally ejects it through the windshield of his car. I don’t know if anyone knew for sure if the dolphin scene was gonna work. But being so collaborative on set, they let me improv a lot and sort of just get into it, and it turned out to be one of the fan favorite scenes. So they just ran with it and they keep throwing me curveballs—and it’s always stuff that you’ve never seen on TV before. And then we try to deal with the character side of things with some grace and nuance.
It’s strange to say this show deals in nuance, but it does at times.
It actually does. In a way, all the blood and guts and gore is the window dressing.
The heroes on The Boys are often used to explore various broken or dysfunctional segments of our culture. Did you always have a sense that your character would become an avatar to interrogate toxic masculinity?
I think it was pretty apparent from the very first episode. I knew the character would be making fun of that type of rich, white, male, privileged asshole. And that’s where the satire comes from. I think we all know people like this to certain degrees—just someone who’s very much not self-aware, who’s a total narcissist, and who looks at everything through the lens of: “How does this improve my status?” He’s like an athlete who was maybe never a great player, but doesn’t want the rug pulled out from under him and dropped from the team because he needs the celebrity status that comes with it, which you can become addicted to. And the Deep has seen the bottom of the barrel after being banished to Sandusky, Ohio in season two, where he winds up yelling obscenities at children in a waterpark. So it all comes from also that deep need for validation, right? He’s always looking to be validated, but he doesn’t know how to earn it. Like when he’s giving his public, on-camera apologies this season. We’ve seen so many real examples of that, and I’m sure you could find plenty of them on YouTube. “I did it. I said I’m sorry. I said the words. Is everyone cool now?” But that’s the gray area we play in, which is so refreshing, as opposed to traditional superhero narratives where there’s often a clear moral black-and-white.
So much of The Boys is a cynical take on how superheroes would operate in the real world: as unchecked sociopaths, unstable weapons of war, and puppets of powerful corporations. After being a part of this show, could you ever star in a Marvel or DC movie with a straight face? Would you want to?
I have to say, I would absolutely love to! But yeah, it might be hard to do with a straight face now. And they might not let me at this point!
At the very least, you’re not going to be allowed onto an Aquaman set any time soon.
No, no, no, I definitely would not.
But somehow I think you’ll be okay.
And hey, I got an award from PETA!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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